Risk Analysis

Mitigating Litigating: An Examination of Psychosocial Impacts of Compensation Processes Associated with the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Journal Article


During the past four decades, a number of social science scholars have conceptualized technological disasters as a social problem. More specifically, research in this arena has identified individual and collective stress as a secondary trauma of processes intended to provide compensation and economic relief from disasters in general and, more specifically, technological disasters. Based on data from a 2013 household telephone survey of 1,216 residents of coastal Alabama, this article examines the relationship between psychosocial stress and compensation processes related to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We examine involvement with claims, settlement, and litigation activities; vulnerability and exposure to the spill; ties to resources; resource loss and gain; perceptions of risk and recreancy; and intrusive stress and avoidance behaviors as measured by the impact of event scale. Regression analysis reveals that the strongest contributors to intrusive stress were being part of the compensation process, resource loss, concerns about air quality, and income. Although being involved with compensation processes was a significant predictor of avoidance behaviors, the strongest contributors to avoidance behaviors were resource loss, air quality concern, income, being male, minority status, and community attachment. Beliefs that the compensation process was as distressing as the oil spill also significantly contributed to intrusive stress and avoidance behaviors. This research represents a step toward filling a gap in empirical evidence regarding the extent to which protracted compensation processes exacerbate adverse psychosocial impacts of disasters and hinder community recovery.

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